‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’ Nothing describes life at university better than this quote by Dickens. Here at Imperial, I had the best experiences in my entire life and, frankly, not so good ones. But the highs definitely outweigh the lows. So here is my perspective of life at Imperial.
How university differs from high school:
Quite simply, it is all down to you. Whether you want to attend lectures, tutorials (aka seminars) or solve the problem sets, it really is all up to you. There is a greater sense of maturity which could either be good or bad. You have to depend on yourself, there is no one opening the curtains in the morning and nagging you to go to lectures; you just have to do it. Which means you might be tempted not to do it all. You bear the responsibility of getting an education here; you have infinite resources at your disposal and it is up to you to take full advantage of them.
There really is no spoon feeding; if you don’t understand something go to office hours, ask your tutors. Your lecturers simply do not have the time to ensure that everyone has understood the lecture; it is a tight schedule. With that being said, there is a great amount of support system, your tutors namely who help you with problem sheets and answer most of your questions. As well as the lecturers themselves; you can pop in during office hours to clear any doubts or just e-mail them.
There are deadlines; hard deadlines. If you don’t get it in before, say, 4:30 p.m. on a Friday it is a ZERO! No marks deducted, just zero. So you better hand it in on time. And, this being Imperial, there is at least 101 things to complete each week. Different courses have different workloads, but at the end of the day they are all designed to challenge you, some more than others while a few will have you pulling your hair once in a while. Stress inevitably has an omnipresence here but I honestly can’t imagine my life without it (will I finish this on time? How many problems do I have to solve before the tutorial? Did I finish my lab report?). I like the adrenaline rush I get when I hand in an assignment just in time and, observing mass hysteria first hand when people scramble to get things done, is perhaps one of the most hilarious thing I have seen. Well, perhaps not for the students who are racing against the clock! You learn to adapt quickly with the stress and just get on with it. Eventually.
This is perhaps the most crucial aspect of university life. There is nobody here to take care of you, you need to do that for yourself. It was a very daunting prospect for me, I must confess, especially coming from a home where everything was taken care for me (I didn’t even make my own bed). Which was perhaps not a good decision made by my parents-to spoil me so. So if I could do it, it will be a piece of cake for you. Even now, after four month of living alone, I am astounded that I managed to survive. I would never have done anything by myself were it not for the fact that I had no other option. It is either doing the laundry or have nothing to wear, washing the dishes or eating from plastic plates, buying groceries or having no milk for breakfast the next day.
However, there are times when I miss having everything taken care of, to be able to lounge all day in bed without having to get takeout (no, after four months of living alone, I still haven’t learned how to cook. At this stage I have accepted the fact that I may never cook!). But knowing that I could do it all without anybody’s help is my most empowering, and surprising, achievement.
70% is the new A*:
Studying at Imperial inevitably means that you are surrounded by many great minds. It is quite difficult to find your identity because you are no longer the ‘smart kid’ and perhaps intimidating to know that no matter how hard you are working you are nowhere near the top of the class, as was the case back in high school. Though there are moments when everybody is just as lost as you are and you feel relieved that you are not the only one.
A small, but necessary heads up, when you see 70% on your test paper, you do not sulk, you party! You may be used to getting 90%+ in high school but that will not happen in university, at least not in as a regular a basis as back then. And it is OKAY. It is not meant to be easy, it is meant to be much more challenging, training you to really use your understanding to solve bizarre problems (perform a material balance on a tree??!!).
Being a first year studying at Imperial you would most likely live at South Kensington; the best place to live in London. I may be partial but having museums at your doorstep, Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park a mere 5 minutes’ walk away and Oxford Street and Harrods (for a bit of shopping) a 20 minute walk away is absolutely brilliant. Yes, it is more expensive than other places but it is definitely worth it. There is so much going on from plays to art exhibitions to comedy, there really is no excuse for you to stay in during the weekend (except perhaps to complete your coursework that you have been putting off for ages and the deadline is in two days!!).
To summarise, university is where you learn how you can cope with life. Setting up a bank account, finding new accommodation for the next year, paying bills is just a small part of what you learn how to do now as opposed to having your parents do it. It is not just about academia, although that is main reason you are here (at least I hope it is!), it is a character building experience. A priceless experience.